It’s hard to imagine the horror and outrage Queen Victoria would feel at the thought of her undies being on display, but on display they are, at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum. I went to see them at an exhibition called Undressed: 350 years of Underwear in Fashion, described on the Powerhouse web site as:
this exhibition features more than 80 garments from the V&A’s extensive collection of underwear, many which have never before been on public display.
The exhibition is fascinating in terms of the garment construction and design but there was a slightly voyeuristic feel to looking at garments that were never intended for public view. Not only would Queen Victoria be horrified at us looking at her undies, undies that have an open crotch seam but she would be further outraged at our reaction to that open seam, which in her day was considered a healthy approach and a practical one, when dealing with massive skirts and layers of petticoats. At the Powerhouse I learned that knitted rather than woven underwear was considered a great innovation, something I think we can all agree with. What I hadn’t realised was how early this innovation occurred. A set of Machine Knitted Mens’ Drawers from the 1851 Great Exhibition was one of the items on display. As photography was not permitted for the V & A items I took photos of the associated displays of 1950’s foundation garments and modern Bonds brand underwear.